Projecting images onto clouds from aircrafts is an incredibly unique project. How did you come up with the initial idea?


The project’s origins were rooted in the creation of a device and methodology to share by open source methods with art and activist communities as a means of creative expression, and to subvert the inevitable cloud advertisements or military tactics. Back in 2007, whilst writing my dissertation Non-Lethal Weapons of Mass Communication I came across a US military paper from 1981 detailing weapon ideas from the Vietnam War, Non-Lethal Weapons Terms and Reference. This paper had several references to the use of projection of a weapon, one being a hologram prophet:

Hologram, Prophet; The projection of the image of an ancient god over an enemy capitol whose public communications have been seized and used against it in a massive psychological operation [609]


In response to the above weapon, the original idea was to project a ubiquitous symbol of hope, and taking stimulus from childhood archetypes in mass media and religion gave rise to the image of an angel. The more I explored this concept, the notion of mis-interpretation i.e. Angel of Death ignited the power potential of the image. How would this potential manifest, if the idea for the image was left open to come from anyone engaged in the process?


This lead me to focus on technological development; the idea of creating a 'non lethal weapon of mass communication' became the sharing of the device and subsequent methodology through open source structures. Underpinned by the decision to keep the spectacle of the final image open for debate with collaborators and audiences, the idea was for them to engage with the artistic process to explore their relationship to the elements, including; the power of the image, creative expression, advertising pollution, ownership of clouds and nature of cross disciplinary collaboration.


Have you always been interested in the idea of projection?


I’ve worked with projection since I was a teenager, initially inspired by a desire to transfer the peacefulness of a tiny floating frog to human size, I began working with Super8, 16mm and eventually digital. I’m fascinated by the nature of our relationship to the moving image; for me projection allows us to break the frame, free from our 16:9 screens, allowing direct interaction with the image, every surface becomes a canvas, texture and scale become an intrinsic part of the narrative of how you read the image beyond the initial content.

Your work not only samples Eaedweard Muybridge’s Horse In Motion but has also been inspired by the 1880s technology he used to create it. Will you tell us a bit more about the Laser Zoopraxiscope Mk6 and how it works?


Clouds are a nebulous surface, constantly in flux and varying in density, to improve the chances of seeing an image on this canvas we need the properties of laser light. A laser produces a single frequency of coherent, collimated light, which is very close to an ideal point source. This means that our projected image is in focus over great distances, originally the idea was to create a laser 16mm projector, but the power consumption and unpredictable nature of projectors meant it wasn’t ideal for air travel.

After working on a series of projections from moving vehicles, I came across the work of Muybridge. His early projection system projected a series of images as a loop, which meant that we could create a light weight projection system using the laser as a light source, perfect for flying.

Muybridge’s projector had two spinning disks, one with a series of vertical slits, one with the series of sequential images, as they rotate in opposite directions, light passes through the slits, across the image disc and creates a flash of a single image frame, thus creating a succession of flashing images, we see as animated images or motion. However, the Muybridge slit method blocked most of the light coming from the laser, resulting in a very dim image, making it impossible to see on a cloud, even at night. The version we created replaces the slits from Muybridges technique with a series of lenses which turns the circular laser light into focussed lines

So how have you managed to successfully combine new and old technologies for this project?


Key to the project’s success was the collaborative working model, working with co-creator and physicist Mike Nix and maker Aaron Nielsen. It was the marriage of these three disciplines of art, science and making/ engineering which gave us the model for success. We could prototype ideas to test out theories quickly; when one theory came to a dead end, a theory from another discipline would take us forward. The skills of each collaborator came with the tools and knowledge of rapid implementation, which meant the work was a fast and dynamic in nature. We have continued to explore this model of best practice with other projects for example the work at, a collective of artists, scientists and makers in Leeds exploring collaborative culture and working practices.

What are the biggest difficulties with working at such great heights?


Well, the very real fear of falling has to be one of the key aspects - manoeuvring a mile above the ground with the window open looking through a lens, certainly gives adrenaline a run for its money. Aside from this, the reason the project took so long, was finding the right atmospheric conditions for clouds to exist after dark, this then had to correlate with the conditions of wind speed on the runway, rain forecast, cloud height. Then the availability of the pilot, plane, airfield with landing lights working were also important to get right, and the kit had to be checked to make sure all was safe to fly, bolts tightened, gears lubed, cables checked. You eventually fall into a rhythm of how it all works.


One aspect, I found hardest during the project was the ubiquitous nature of clouds themselves; what seems like everyday you are tortured by seeing the clouds, you are reminded of what you are trying to do against all the odds, how far you’ve come, how you can’t really turn back. Maybe some of the advertising stunts you keep turning away will find a way of beating you to it, you can’t escape them. On the good cloud days, something usually falls through, for a year we didn’t have a pilot, plane and airfield.


This has been a large-scale project – both in research, development and the projections being made. What’s next, where can you go now you've reached the clouds?


Well, I’d be lying if I said the moon wasn’t on my list, but until then, now that we have the methodology, we have plans for a larger installation in the clouds. It has been in the design phase for two years, but we need a serious budget and partners to achieve this. In the meantime, we are planning a paper on the collaborative model, bookwork and lecture tour.


You’ve documented your processes very well in the hope to inspire others. In a similar vein, FACTLab highlights the processes behind production. How important do you think it is to demonstrate innovative technologies to the public?


Core to what we wanted to achieve with this project was to celebrate the power of cross disciplinary collaboration, keeping the faith against all odds, maintaining the integrity of an idea and inspiring others to work together. The art was in the research process and model development, the larger team behind Nimbus all gave their time in the belief of genuine discovery, we could have easily gone down the commercial route, but this would have done a disservice to all who collaborated and contradicted the very nature of our intentions.


Technology has been at a stage for some years where we can create almost anything in our basements from repurposing existing technology to prototyping our own, we can all make big things happen whilst working with communities online, other disciplines on your doorstep and sharing the findings for others to use and build upon. We hope presenting our ideas in the public realm serves as an inspiration for others to work together and think that by looking back at what our ancestors did can sometime be a way to look forward.


Build Your Own: Tools for Sharing and FACTLab are open at FACT until 31 August 2015